Election websites and voter information studies

If you wanted to learn about an election, where would you go? How likely are you to find the information you need?

Two new research projects looked at county election websites and printed voter guides. The team learned a lot about how voters (and would-be voters) look for information.

The biggest surprise was how the information journey is organized. Voters start with the ballot,  working their way from the choices they will make on election day to what they need to be able to vote. This is the opposite of the way most guides are organized as a process that starts with eligibility and registration and ends with the results of the election.

We weren’t surprised to learn that many of the sites and brochures contained “election speak” — even when they were trying to write clearly. Words like nonpartisan and overvoted confused, but so did awkward expressions like “close of registration.” It was more compelling evidence that plain language is critical to effective voter information.

Our study of voter guides revealed another shocker: even people who were highly motivated to vote could be derailed by information gaps. Three of 16 participants wanted to vote in the November 2012 General Election, but had problems doing so.

Read about the research results at civicdesigning.org

Three new Field Guides summarize the lessons learned in tidy booklets.